should I just give up trying to enjoy this and trying to partake in bdsm. My boyfriend doesn’t want me to do it if I’m not comfortable but I feel like I’m letting him down. Should he be stricter with me to make me get over it?

It’s so good you asked this, well done. We can do deep and serious too and it’s much better to be bringing this stuff up and talking about it than suffering through it. I’ll answer this in the context of both sexual assault and abuse as they both tend to have some similar effects to what you’re describing.

Obvious trigger warnings people…

The UK Crime Survey just started to include a question about abuse this year and the results were that 11% of women had been sexually abused as kids. That’s a HELL of a lot of people – so good job asking as others will definitely have the same issue.

So bear in mind I’m not a qualified therapist however I’ve given a lot of advice to friends and subs who have been through abuse and sexual assault, so here are my thoughts.

Firstly, don’t give up!

For me part of this is saying to those who did this to you, ‘Fuck them, I’m not going to let them take anything more away from me. I loved sex and being kinky and I’m going to love it again’

The obvious first advice is if there are specific triggers your boyfriend is activating that he doesn’t know about then either explain that to him or change what you’re doing to avoid it. Okay, but beyond that it’s important to know a few other things

It’s okay to be uncomfortable!  

You were assaulted, it was sexual. It’s not weird that sex now ties into some of that. Try to relax about being uncomfortable, sometimes worrying about your reaction is worse than the reaction itself. So just know it’s okay to feel this way, and acknowledging that is a key step in then moving on so you stop feeling that way.

Equip your boyfriend to deal with it

I don’t think him being stricter is the way to go, Instead it involves improving your communication.

Help him understand your triggers, talk about your abuse/assault openly but appropriately when it comes up. Personally when it was a sub of mine I wanted to know everything so I could navigate through what we were doing with more understanding rather than worry about hitting some unknown rock just below the surface. But be aware, especially with some things, there are facts you may want to avoid sharing in detail as they can become negative triggers for him. He can’t unthink stuff you tell him so just think through what you tell him and bounce it off someone else first if you have them for a second opinion.

Have a special safeword

So you should all know Red and Yellow for sexual play, red being stop and yellow indicating you’re near what you can stand. But with subs who have been through abuse I also sometimes include a ‘Purple’ safeword which lets them indicate that what we’re doing is causing some flashbacks or negative reactions but they don’t want to stop, they just wanted to let me know.

There’s this big worry that it’ll get worse where you get caught up in ‘should I stop now, it might be okay’ and that takes you out of the moment anyway. The Purple thing just lets you pass that off to him to be aware of and keep a special eye on you, and lets you feel much calmer about continuing, so that’s not adding more to the worry.

Okay, so the next bit might be controversial, and I’m going to just back this up by saying that I only did this extensively with one sub who had a world leading therapist looking after her, and who was actively overseeing her. But it was incredibly powerful when we explored these approaches.

Disempower your abuse memories

You asked if you should try harder to forget. Nope, totally wrong approach in my experience, in fact, you need to try less hard!

Have you ever tried to hold a beachball underwater? It’s exhausting. But let it up and you can push that thing around with a fingertip.

When you try and push your bad memories down inside you, they act like that beachball. You’re constantly having to fight to keep them down, it’s mentally exhausting. And you will fail, they’ll pop up in flashbacks and nightmares and potentially all over the place in stuff like self-harm and self destructive behaviour.

If you let them up then they lose almost all of their power. How do you do that? Talk about it, talk about it as matter as factly as you can. Don’t use childish words to hide what happened to you, just state it and move on. But don’t give it more power than it merits. I had a sub who used to flag up something was problematic by telling me, ‘Sorry James, that was getting a bit rapey’ and that casual way of expressing it completely took the stress out of it and we just moved on with no problems to something else.

Never be ashamed of being abused or assaulted, it was NOT YOUR FAULT. Nope, it wasn’t, I don’t care how many ways you may have figured it could have been. It was not. It happened, you survived. Now it’s time to learn to do more than survive and choose to thrive too.

Having said all that, you need to know it may have changed how you feel about bdsm and denial, and if it has then that’s shitty but simply reality. Try what I’ve suggested, see if it helps, I’m sure it will, but if it doesn’t, find out what you enjoy now and make the most of that. It’s only BDSM and denial, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you can make love passionately and intimately with him then it’s all going to be okay.

The ultimate taboo about abuse and assault?

But here’s an evil twist that for some is almost more than they can deal with. It may well not be true for the OP but while I’m discussing this it’s a hugely taboo subject that needs addressing.

Thinking or talking about your abuse might turn you on, or in a similar vein it’s possible for women to orgasm when being raped or assaulted.

If this is true for you listen to me, this is super important.

It’s okay to be aroused thinking back to your abuse. It’s okay to have experienced physical pleasure from being assaulted. It really is.

I know, it sounds so fucked up, but this is normal, particularly for those who were abused at younger ages or by someone they loved. And if you experience this you need to know, it’s okay. It does NOT make you a bad person, or mean that you wanted it. It does not mean you enjoyed it (but even if you did enjoy any of it it was still abuse and still not your fault and it’s still okay!).

It just means your brain got a bit messed up by it all and your body has learnt to respond that way, sometimes in an effort to protect itself, and sometimes for reasons we don’t fully understand. 

In terms of arousal during assault here’s a great quote:

Aphrodite Matsakis writes about sexual arousal or orgasm in rape:
“Before you chastise yourself for one more minute, remember that your sexual organs do not have a brain. They cannot distinguish between a mauling rapist and the gentle touch of a lover. They simply react to stimulation the way they were physically designed to respond. If you climaxed or had some other sexual response to the rape, this does not mean that you enjoyed it." 

STOP feeling guilty about it. and stop trying to forget it. If you try to push this away then it can completely eat you up. Find someone you can talk to about it (some therapists can’t handle this fact though, I warn you now). The experience is usually, if you accept and stop freaking out about it, then actually as I said earlier, it loses its power and becomes much less of an issue and you’ll think about and remember it much less.

Get professional advice – but make it good advice

There are a lot of shit therapists. Like really, really bad. Lots of people get into therapy because they are fucked up themselves, so don’t just think that someone with a fancy title is going to be any good. Make sure you like them and they know what they’re talking about. Trust your gut.

To sum up

You were assaulted, it totally and utterly sucks. But don’t let it take any more of your life. Be open about it, keep talking, disempower those memories and dare to take some risks with your boyfriend because you’re stronger than you even know. You’re lucky to have him and he’s lucky to have you.

If you’re looking for more (and much more expert) information on this then let me hugely recommend the Pandora Project. An amazing resource and community for abuse and assault survivors.

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